Intellectual Bravery

“Nobody’s that good. That’s why we need each other.” – Dr. Barry Bickmore

Anyone can back their own point of view. But real progress comes when you’re able to accept that the things you used to think and do weren’t good enough, that you can do better.

I was struck by this damascene account because not only had Dr. Bickmore accepted that he had been wrong about global warming, but had actually put together a presentation on why. Best of all, he identified the exact info that led him to accept the scientific consensus:

  • Scientific debate about human responsibility for global warming is over.
  • The models used to show changing global temperature are well-supported by a massive variety of evidence.
  • While there is uncertainty, this is normal in science, and global warming is probably higher than the usual estimates.

Beyond the science, though, Bickmore talks personally about how he once managed to avoid the truth. He talks about “me and people like me”, but the fallacies and fallabilities he talks about are human failings, not specific to global warming deniers. Because we all suffer from the tendency to filter information to support our own preconceptions, the ability and courage to change your mind is vital.

Even responsible mainstream media avoid responsibility for reporting the truth through the ideal of ‘neutrality’ or ‘balance’: reporting both sides of the story, even when one side is composed of “truth-challenged individuals”.

On a tangent, possibly more dangerous is the fact that big-R Reality is not limited to two sides – it ramifies in all directions. The media ‘norms’ issues when they claim to present ‘both’ sides. The truth, they imply, lies somewhere in between these two. But nonscientific media deliberately avoid establishing where the truth actually is! Telling two sides of a story implies there are only two sides: no shades of grey, only black and white. Reality is full-spectrum vivid colour (and spilling out beyond the two sides of that spectrum, too, into the invisible!)

Ahem. In the words of Frank Tyger, “Listening to both sides of a story will convince you that there is more to a story than both sides.”

In relation to global warming, for example, the most common prescription is to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade (the 350 parts per million atmospheric CO2 goal). However, not only is that target too high, but we are already producing more emissions than the IPCC allowed for in their ‘worst case scenario’.

The challenge is far-reaching. The International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook points out that the long lifespan of energy infrastructure means that our existing infrastructure will push us over the 350 ppm limit. Unless we radically change our construction habits by 2017, we will be committed to going above 450 ppm within the next half-century.

By building that unsustainable infrastructure, we are creating a future in which we face a bad choice: either turn the atmosphere into a sweltering greenhouse, or stop using CO2-intensive power stations – wasting the work and resources that went into them. Building sustainable infrastructure now means not having to make stupid choices later. And that requires us to admit that what we’re doing now is really, badly, wrong.

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2 Comments

Filed under Climate Change

2 responses to “Intellectual Bravery

  1. christianclarityreview

    You greenies are all the same: in the service of Big Corporations and to a certain extent oblivious. True, the debate is over: the alarmist are simply lying (http://s8int.com/WordPress/2011/11/07/pair-of-graphs-described-in-paragraphs-prove-global-warming-proponents-uncool-scientist-who-made-recent-claim-that-sceptics-had-been-proved-wrong-accused-of-hiding-truth-by-colleague/) for fun and profit.

    On the premise of “global warming’ and supposed “solutions”, invisible things called “carbon units” are being bought and sold like a real commodity and soaking the taxpayers: Are they being bought by joe incognito plain as dirt actually decieved green enthusiasts? No. ..by tree hugging hippies? No. ..by communists set on destroying capitalism who go along with the greenies? No.

    By Big Corporations. Whole vast swaths of third world countries are being stolen from the indigenous populations on the premise of “ecological parks”.

    If free will existed, no one could be so dumb as to think that “swapping carbon units” was real, much less as a basis for business transactions that grab whole sections of mineral rich third world countries. An ass would not believe that.

    Yet you guys are so sure you are ‘saving the world’ and so in love with that version of yourselves you can’t hear any other version. You are either deaf or actively being paid to put out propaganda. If its the cash for propaganda, that would mean you are twice deaf.
    1. you are in a hurry
    2. you are lying
    Proverbs 21:5,6 The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.

    timothy

    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

  2. Leith

    I feel the same concern about the impact of carbon trading on people’s land rights. The interests of big capital infringe the subsistence of the poor constantly, and unfortunately carbon trading is no exception.

    I would like to point out though that trade in intangibles is common and generally accepted: intellectual property, shares, and many forms of quota besides carbon are well-established, and singling out carbon as if it weren’t a “real commodity” is pretty arbitrary.

    As for the issue of whether global warming is real, your URL says it all really: pair of graphs. Two graphs that disagree don’t really prove a whole lot. You obviously think the second graph is the true one; however there’s no particular reason to believe that rather than the first, and plenty of reason to believe the ‘hockey stick’ graph. 97.5% of climate scientists agree that global warming is real, serious, and caused by human activity. Compared to the overwhelming consensus of the experts, one graph fails to impress.

    Especially when you look at what it says! At first glance, it appears to show that temperatures have remained steady instead of climbing, as the first graph shows. However, they use different x-axis scales. This is very bad data presentation. The graphs cannot be compared at a glance. Graph 2, which you claim disproves all the other data on global warming, only covers the period from 2001 to 2010, unlike the 200-year scope of graph 1. A decade is a very short time in world climate; you shouldn’t expect a long-term trend to show up. And graph 2 shows that throughout that period, temperatures were consistently higher than the 1950-1980 average – exactly as the global warming consensus would expect.

    I am not qualified to comment on the quality of the data, nor which graph is more accurate. I don’t know what causes the large dip at the end (which, note, goes back up to the trend line immediately), or even if it is real. But anyone looking at what the graph actually says can see that it shows that temperatures have risen since 1950-1980 by roughly 1 degree: this is the scientific consensus which you claim has been disproved.

    Ultimately, the question of global warming is a complex and highly technical one, with a great many uncertainties. However the vast preponderance of evidence supports the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. Reality is complex, and it is only to be expected that for every correct theory, there will be some data that seems to contradict it. This can occur because of errors in the experiment, errors in interpretation, or simply because random chance threw out some real data that falls outside the theory’s predictions. This is why scientists include error margins and confidence intervals in their analysis – and even with those, you generally expect 5% of the data to fall outside the theory anyway. If you don’t think that’s good enough, consider the irony of reading about it on a scientifically-developed instrument like a computer. Science works; uncertainty doesn’t stop it.

    Richard Muller’s an interesting person for this issue to flare up around. A former denier, he is known for misrepresenting the facts of the climategate ‘scandal’ among other things. He now accepts the scientific consensus, having changed his mind on the basis of his project’s data, which you referenced. That is all well and good, being convinced by the evidence is an important part of science. However he sharply underestimates the quality of everyone else’s research (a common enough trait among deniers). As Ben Santer said in a recent congressional climate briefing:

    He seemed to imply that all scientists should have been skeptics like him before his study, and that he’s the only one to have taken skeptics’ criticisms seriously and actually investigated their claims […] Did those other scientists violate some sacred principle of scientific skepticism by accepting their own exhaustive studies’ results without having waited for Muller to come along with his study? Certainly not.

    In the name of reason and science, truly.

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